Dance academy

The Carolina Dance Academy celebrates its 15th anniversary

by Rebekka Taylor

Prayers, a passion for dancing and an old Chevy is what Carolina Dance Academy owner Dixie Elliott attributes to the success of her dance studio. Fifteen years ago her husband lost his job and they found themselves struggling to support their family. Elliott was working one day a week as a dance instructor and she was pregnant with their fourth child, when her husband suggested selling his late father’s 1976 Chevrolet Corvette so she could open her own dance studio.

“I knew down to the penny what I needed to open the studio. I had already spoken to someone about the possibility of renting a one-room space, but the floors needed to be redone, ballet bars needed to be installed and mirrors needed to be hung,” Elliott said.

Elliott gave herself a July 1 deadline because she knew a successful studio should have students signed up as soon as school starts. An offer of $13,000 arrived for the car, but her husband declined the offer in hopes of getting more. Elliott said his heart sank because it would have been more than enough money; she only needed $9,000. She woke up on July 1 and couldn’t put her feet on the floor.

“I literally rolled out of bed on July 1st and got down on my knees to pray and cry out to God because my deadline had come and I didn’t know what. we were going to do,” Elliott recalled.

She prepared to return her key to the building owner at 5 p.m. that day. Just before it was time to leave, Elliott’s husband called to say he had accepted an offer of $8,995 for the old Chevy.

“God will always give you what you need,” she laughs, “not always what you want.”

This began the fifteen-year legacy of the Carolina Dance Academy in Manning, SC. After a failed attempt to create a website, using the template of a Chinese restaurant and listing the entire Chinese food menu on its enrollment page, Elliott started freshman year with 75 students. Since then, his group has grown to 212 students with a two-room studio, a full gymnasium and a hall to boast of trophies from competitions won.

Elliott prides herself on being a person who builds relationships with her students and encourages them in all areas of life. The dance studio Elliott grew up in was her “safe place” during her parents’ divorce and she knows what it means to provide a similar space for others.

“It’s heartbreaking what our young people are wearing. There’s so much pressure with academics, home life, self-esteem, girls thinking they’re ‘too big’ or girls thinking they’re ‘too short’. There’s so much pressure to be perfect,” Elliott said.

Each year at the studio begins the same for older students. They write down everything that weighs on them on a piece of paper. Sometimes students share what they have written, but sometimes they keep it to themselves. Elliott then orders them to “take out the trash”. They ball up these papers and throw it all away. This exercise opened a line of communication between her and the students, allowing them to forge a special bond. Students also recognize larger issues through this exercise and choose different organizations throughout the year to donate to. They participate in Feed My Starving Children, they pick up trash in County Clarendon and fill the Blessing Box located in the heart of Manning.

“Doing good to others makes you feel good about yourself,” Elliott said. “I’m more interested in raising good humans than raising good dancers, but I do have great dancers!”

The Carolina Dance Academy just celebrated its 15th anniversary, and Elliott said she’s excited to see what happens with the studio. She’s worked hard and had a lot of faith to build the program she has, and she doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. Registrations are underway for the next dance season, which coincides with the school year. If you are interested in signing up, please drop by the studio or visit their website; it now offers a course “menu” instead of Chinese cuisine!